The video I have posted below is about twenty minutes long. It’s from “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” on MSNBC. I recommend investing the time to watch it, if for no other reason than as a way to familiarize yourself with a relatively unknown part of our Constitution.
As everyone knows, the MSNBC evening lineup during the week features three left-of-center personalities: Chris Hayes, a 30-something liberal journalist from the Bronx, who has been in the trenches of progressive activism since he graduated from college; St. Rachel Maddow, a 40-something journalist from California with a doctorate in politics from Oxford, who happens to be the first openly gay person to host a big-time prime-time show on American television; then there is Lawrence O’Donnell, a 60-something Harvard graduate and self-admitted European socialist who majored in economics and became a writer, most notably a writer for, and producer of, the popular television show The West Wing, for which he won an Emmy award. Oh, and he was a senior advisor to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and a staff director for the Senate Finance Committee.
Of the three hosts on MSNBC’s evening programming, O’Donnell, in my opinion, is the most original thinker, at least in terms of what he does on his show. I like Chris Hayes and his youthful exuberance and intellectual debating style. I love St. Rachel and her ability to connect seemingly disparate stories into one coherent and informative narrative. What I enjoy about O’Donnell, though, is his willingness to go where others fear to go, as demonstrated in the following segment (actually two segments I captured into one) that explores a topic few people would dare to touch on cable television.
What lends a strong sense of legitimacy to the otherwise unorthodox discussion you will hear in the video below is the presence of Laurence Tribe, the renowned professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School who was once considered to be on the short list of any Democratic president’s Supreme Court nominee list. Tribe’s credentials as a scholar of the Constitution are beyond question, and the fact that he has argued cases before the Supreme Court some 36 times makes him arguably the preeminent source of thought on liberal jurisprudence—that is to say, common sense jurisprudence—in the country.
To provide some background, the Twenty-fifth Amendment was adopted in 1967, after the Kennedy assasination revealed the uncertainty surrounding the incapacity of the president and just how, if a president was allegedly unable to perform the duties of the office, would the system deal with the situation, not just if the president recovered from a clear incapacity but if he (or someday “she”) challenged an apparent one. How would all this work and who would decide?
For the purpose of the discussion below, here is the relevant provision in the amendment, found in Section 4:
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.
Now, to the discussion: